Information to Guide Your Fall Semester Planning (Graduate Students)
Dear CMU Graduate Students:
As we finalize our preparations for the fall semester we are committed to planning for the safety and well-being of our community while continuing to offer a transformative educational opportunity for each one of you. Graduate students are vitally important to our educational and research missions and we are gratified and humbled by the ways you have shown commitment to your education in the face of recent uncertainties.
This fall semester will be different in many ways, and your graduate programs and the university are committed to helping you make informed decisions that align with your individual circumstances while also allowing you flexibility and choice to make progress toward your educational and professional goals and aspirations.
We recognize that you are facing important decisions amidst the shifting landscape of the pandemic, and we know you have been eager for more details about the fall semester. The development of our plans has been informed by engagement with academic leadership, faculty senate, student government leadership, local public health officials and other campus and national experts.
Today, we are writing to share important information on the following topics:
- The graduate student experience
- Health and safety guidelines
- Course schedules and registration
- Student health insurance plan
- Financial aid and fall semester invoices
We are prepared to adjust our plans to suit changing conditions, and your deans and program directors will keep you informed as more decisions are made.
The Graduate Student Experience
The educational experiences of our graduate students are quite varied and can range from a primary focus on traditional coursework to immersion in independent scholarly pursuits involving research and creative discovery and, for some students, a mixture of both. In addition, a number of you take on responsibilities as instructors or teaching assistants as a part of your educational endeavors.
Your decisions for the coming semester will undoubtedly be influenced by the specific type of educational activities in which you are planning to be engaged.
- For those of you mostly focused on coursework, the hybrid approach designed for the fall semester will allow for a combination of remote and in-person course experiences and a great deal of personal flexibility. Students who are unable to come to campus or who prefer remote learning will, in the majority of cases, be able to launch or continue your studies and progress toward your degree regardless of location.
- Those of you primarily focused on research or creative pursuits may also be able to continue your work remotely. The phased return to on-campus research has been successful to date and we look forward to further expansion (described below) as we begin the new academic year.
- Those of you who are preparing for roles as instructors or teaching assistants may need to modify your educational practice in the fall to adjust to the hybrid format and safety constraints. Actual modality assignments for all courses are being finalized now and department leadership will work closely with graduate student instructors and TAs to provide guidance and address any concerns. Additionally, the Eberly Center stands ready to assist you as you prepare for these new practices and approaches.
For those of you who plan on continuing your research or teaching while working remotely outside of the United States, please contact your program director to determine whether there may be any limitations on your ability to perform that work.
Health and Safety Guidelines
We have watched the numbers of coronavirus cases increase in the Pittsburgh area, as well as in national and global communities, and this sobering trend has informed our approach to on-campus policies. We are finalizing our protocols for the return to campus driven by science and research-based evidence, recognizing our knowledge of the virus continues to evolve. We will be responsive to emerging guidance as the start of fall semester nears.
Highlights of our approach include:
- A strategic plan to de-densify campus through limits on class sizes, research operations, access to campus facilities, activities and events.
- A requirement for all community members to wear facial coverings in all indoor and outdoor campus locations.
- A daily symptom-tracking protocol that all who are coming to campus must use.
- A testing strategy that will provide point-of-care testing for any symptomatic student and their close contacts, as well as broad testing upon arrival for any populations who may present a higher risk of virus transmission. We will provide more information to these populations in the coming weeks. We continue to study the benefits of serial testing for asymptomatic individuals and will follow the science to inform any additional testing protocols.
- Rigorous and swift contact tracing and expectations of isolation for those who are symptomatic, test positive or have been in close contact with those who have tested positive.
Current guidance suggests that a 14-day quarantine prior to joining in-person coursework or engaging in on-campus research will help reduce spread of the virus, so we are finalizing the details for an expectation of self-quarantine upon arrival to the region by anyone coming from outside Southwestern Pennsylvania. We wanted to highlight this requirement so you can plan accordingly as you prepare to come to campus.
- If you cannot arrive to the area two weeks before the semester begins, the hybrid model of education is intended to allow you to participate fully in your education until your quarantine period is completed. Students with responsibilities requiring in-person work should consult with their advisors for modified assignments during the quarantine period.
- Incoming graduate students should also factor in any orientation activities that may impact the date of your arrival in Pittsburgh. While the university-level welcome and orientation events will be offered exclusively online, some departments and programs are developing hybrid orientation approaches and will communicate those plans with those students directly.
You can read this article about our initial mitigation and safety efforts, and view some images reflecting preliminary changes to our spaces. CMU will continue to share details on our health and safety guidelines as additional decisions are made, including a shared code of conduct we will expect all Tartans to embrace in support of the common good of our community.
Course Schedules and Registration
Courses this fall will be offered in one of three modalities: remote only, in-person plus remote and in-person only. The decision for which courses will be offered in-person, or with an in-person option, has been a careful process that considered optimal course design and content, safety protocols, guidance from department heads, classroom space and number of enrolled students.
We recognize that some of our students may be unable to pursue their studies on campus this fall so we have designed the hybrid model to allow flexibility at the individual program level to support a variety of circumstances. We encourage you to contact your program to explore the range of options open to you. Regardless of modality, you will receive a quality educational experience from Carnegie Mellon.
- Beginning July 20, students may view their fall semester schedule on SIO (Student Information Online), which will indicate course modality and some minor changes, such as adjustments made to class start times and longer breaks between classes. Your academic advisor or graduate coordinator will be available to answer other schedule-related questions.
- International students should continue to consult with the Office of International Education (OIE) regarding recent guidance from the U.S. federal government. As information is updated, you will continue to hear from us.
- For incoming graduate students, your school or college will be communicating the process to register for classes. Your academic advisor will be available to support the registration process and answer schedule-related questions.
Research is essential to CMU’s mission and to the educational experience of many of our graduate students. The university continues to return to research activities on-site through a phased approach, balancing safety with the ability to make research progress. Plans to return on-site research and non-curricular creative work are evaluated in coordination with the return of other educational and administrative activities. Graduate student program requirements are one element our deans are considering as they prioritize the order and pace at which specific research activities return.
- We continue to prioritize only those research activities that must be done in an onsite facility. We have nearly 100 research plans approved for CMU on-premises research and non-curricular creative work.
- Plans to return to activities on-site are designed to ensure that all lab participants, including graduate students, are aware of and are able to meet the safety measures CMU is requiring for resumption of on-site activities.
- Throughout this decision-making process, we continue to advocate to ensure our international students can continue in their education and to make valuable research contributions.
- Students with questions and concerns about their work or returning in person should discuss them with their faculty advisor, their department and college, and as always can reach out to Amy Burkert, Vice Provost for Education, for additional guidance and support.
- Our COVID-19 Updates researcher resources page contains the most current information.
Finally, we want to recognize the many students whose work allows them to continue to do their research remotely. This will allow us to best manage campus density and demonstrate we can re-engage in onsite facilities while prioritizing the health and safety of our entire campus community.
For students who plan on continuing their research work remotely while not in the United States, please contact your faculty advisor or department to determine whether there may be any limitations on your ability to perform that work.
Student Health Insurance Plan
Committed to your health and well-being, CMU provides a comprehensive Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). Due to the impact of the pandemic, we have updated our SHIP enrollment and waiver process for the 2020-2021 academic year to address the hybrid model of instruction and account for the various needs of our graduate students and your families.
- To accommodate your decision-making process, we have pushed back the launch of the SHIP enrollment/waiver period by one week to Wednesday, July 22. If you have any questions regarding CMU SHIP, enrollment or waivers, please visit the Student Health Insurance Plan website or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Financial Aid and Fall Semester Invoices
We understand that you have finances on your minds during this time of year, perhaps more so given the uncertainties the pandemic has brought. Our Enrollment Services team is adapting policies and procedures in order to increase flexibility for you regardless of where you physically reside during this coming academic year. A few key items to highlight:
- We anticipate disbursing student loans on August 24, 2020 for the fall 2020 semester. Visit the Student Financial Services website for more information regarding federal and private
- Student Account refunds will be distributed as early as August 28, 2020. We urge you to register a bank account for electronic refunding in Student Information Online (SIO) for quicker access to your funds. Visit the student account refunds webpage for more information.
In addition, we have adjusted our normal billing and payment timelines to allow more time for students to plan their finances for the upcoming semester:
- Fall 2020 semester invoices will be available July 31.
- Fall 2020 semester balances will be due by September 15.
Our Tartan family is strongest when we face challenges as one united community and when we lead with compassion and care. With a combination of personal responsibility and consideration for the wellbeing of others, our CMU community will emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient.
We, along with your deans, will provide updates throughout the summer as we continue our preparation for fall semester, and our COVID-19 website is a resource for information about our plans.
Jim Garrett, Provost
Gina Casalegno, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students